Sunday, May 31, 2015

India vs. China: Competing Cultures

China vs. India; India vs. China.

The great debate about liberal democracy will not be decided in debating societies or even in deliberative governmental bodies. It is being played out on a grand scale in the competition between India and China.

You see, China has achieved extraordinary economic growth over the past three decades without holding democratic elections. One notes that it has chosen a series of highly competent political leaders. The people who have been running China these many years are not vainglorious political hacks.

The notion of prosperity without democracy irritates idealists. They believe that liberal democracy and free enterprise must function in tandem.

For many years now, serious thinkers have been predicting that China will suffer an economic collapse, or at least a political rebellion from the oppressed masses. More sophisticated thinkers, people who do not really care who does or does not starve, will tell you that the Chinese people have been provided with jobs and opportunity and wealth and consumer goods… in order to dispossess them of their political freedom.

Besides, they will add, China is immensely polluted, filthy beyond human imagination or endurance. Rapid industrialization without liberal democracy has a price.

If China becomes the role model for developing countries around the world, the triumph of liberal democracy will not seem quite as inevitable as it once did.

Those who wish to promote an alternative to China often light on the largest democracy in the world: India.

For now the per capita GDP of China is more than twice that of India, so the world’s largest democracy has some catching up to do.

Thus, I was amazed to read an article in the New York Times yesterday about the living conditions in India. The article’s author, Times New Delhi bureau chief Gardiner Harris has just finished his tour in India. Harris, you see, is being reassigned. From the perspective of his family, not a minute too soon.

You see, the air and the water in New Delhi are polluted to the point that they have seriously damaged the health of Harris’s son, Bram.

In Harris’s words:

FOR weeks the breathing of my 8-year-old son, Bram, had become more labored, his medicinal inhaler increasingly vital. And then, one terrifying night nine months after we moved to this megacity, Bram’s inhaler stopped working and his gasping became panicked.

My wife called a friend, who recommended a private hospital miles away. I carried Bram to the car while my wife brought his older brother. India’s traffic is among the world’s most chaotic, and New Delhi’s streets are crammed with trucks at night, when road signs become largely ornamental. We undertook one of the most frightening journeys of our lives, with my wife in the back seat cradling Bram’s head.

When we arrived, doctors infused him with steroids (and refused to provide further treatment until a $1,000 charge on my credit card went through). A week later, Bram was able to return home.

Sadly, it was not an uncommon occurrence:

We gradually learned that Delhi’s true menace came from its air, water, food and flies. These perils sicken, disable and kill millions in India annually, making for one of the worst public health disasters in the world. Delhi, we discovered, is quietly suffering from a dire pediatric respiratory crisis, with a recent study showing that nearly half of the city’s 4.4 million schoolchildren have irreversible lung damage from the poisonous air.

How bad was it?

Sarath Guttikunda, one of India’s top pollution researchers, who moved to Goa, on the west coast of India, to protect his two young children, was unequivocal: “If you have the option to live elsewhere, you should not raise children in Delhi.”

These and other experts told me that reduced lung capacity in adults is a highly accurate predictor of early death and disability — perhaps more than elevated blood pressure or cholesterol. So by permanently damaging their lungs in Delhi, our children may not live as long.

And then there are nascent areas of research suggesting that pollution can lower children’s I.Q., hurt their test scores and increase the risks ofautismepilepsydiabetes and even adult-onset diseases like multiple sclerosis.

But, we imagine, it must be much worse in China. After all, India is a democracy and in democratic nations the people will never tolerate poisoned air and water. Besides, a democratic nation must have an environmental lobby. A capitalist bastion like China is not forced to respond to will of the people... right?

Apparently, this is not the case. When it comes to pollution India is in a class by itself. It far exceeds China… and China is certainly not a model of clean air and water.

Harris writes:

… the air and the mounting research into its effects [in India] have become so frightening that some feel it is unethical for those who have a choice to willingly raise children here. Similar discussions are doubtless underway in Beijing and other Asian megacities, but it is in Delhi — among the most populous, polluted, unsanitary and bacterially unsafe cities on earth — where the new calculus seems most urgent. The city’s air is more than twice as polluted as Beijing’s, according to the World Health Organization. (India, in fact, has 13 of the world’s 25 most polluted cities, while Lanzhou is the only Chinese city among the worst 50; Beijing ranks 79th.)

Of course, Harris is questioning whether he or any other expatriate ought reasonably to subject his children to the pollution that infests the air and water of New Delhi.

China might be better than India in this regard, but still expatriates in Beijing pose the same question.

Surely, it is an interesting question, but it implies that people have a choice in the matter. Other nations also have a choice. They can decide to emulate the Chinese example or the example set by Indian democracy.

Unfortunately, despite their having the vote the citizens of New Delhi probably do not find that a consolation for the conditions in which they are forced to bring up their children. 


priss rules said...

Democracy is only as good as the people practicing it.

But then, same goes for autocracy.

The reason why democracy may not be ideal for a huge nation like India or China is because maintaining order must be the #1 priority.

Before UK evolved into a democracy, it first had to maintain order and unity through use of force.

US and Australia could develop as stable democracies since there was lots of land. With so much land and resources, there was lots of opportunities for people to have a stake in life. Since they had many economic opportunities, they could practice a stable form of democracy.

In contrast, China had a huge population and lots of problems to begin with. And it was desperately poor and divided. So, democracy wasn't an ideal system as the priority had to be order and unity. So, autocracy was necessary. Mao provided bad autocracy, Deng offered a good kind.

Democracy changes rulers but it keeps the same system. And rulers mainly serve the interests of big money. In that, there isn't such a big difference between a democracy and autocracy. And what is to be said of Japan that had pretty much one party rule since WWII with a few exceptions? Is that a democracy or autocracy?

And wasn't India essentially a one party system until the 90s when BJP took power. Nehru and his daughter and then her son Rajiv ran the show for what seemed like forever.

Ares Olympus said...

Comparing India and China seems like a tough job, but we can try.

Population is the first factor to compare. In 1960 India had 450 million to China's 667 million in the middle of the great Chinese famine (down to 660 million in 1961) as Communist China tried to do top-down management of the food supply.

Since China's population more than doubled to 1350 million while significantly slowed perhaps due to their draconic one-child policy and ended up with 52 million more males than females, (1,341,335,152 total, 696,340,752 male, 644,994,400 female), which is a social experiment of monumental proportions. Has there ever been a society that has significantly less women than me? Usually wars cause the reverse. Will this make it a hypermasculine society, where only the most ruthless men rise, to attract a mate? Or what values will women choose for their husbands?

In the same period India's democratic population increased by a factor of 2.78 to 1250 million and still growing strong, with a 1.2% increase per year, a rate which will double in 58 years, compared to China's 0.5% annual increase, a 140 year doubling, actually lower than the U.S. 0.7% rate which is half native births, half immigration.

Both China and India still have huge poor populations, with subsistence farming, but more and more young people are attracted to large cities for more opportunity. Which country will handle this urban influx better? And China has gone infrastructure crazy since 2000 and build up cities out of nothing, but most are outside of the price range for average chinese. And in contrast, middle class Chinese are buying in these properties as investments, even as its unclear if anyone will actually live in them. So perhaps after the coming financial bust and housing crash, the middle class will be wiped out, but these unused properties will become new homes for the lower class? Of course they may not have the money to maintain them, and who knows how well these buildings have been made?

I work for an engineering company with employees from both India and China, and basically none of them seem interested in moving back home, although both countries seem to still support traditional matchmakers, and the engineers who didn't come here married have all gone back for brides and moved them back here to raise a family. I think the Indians have an easier time in America, at least their English is excellent of course, while Chinese will have a harder time with advancement when they can't talk as well in English to clients, or express themselves in meetings.

Recently I saw this short video from India, a small town takes all the unused clothes around the world and reprocesses them, pretty depressing, or exciting to think there'll always be poor enough people to do things us Americans would never dream of as work.

We can compare billionaire populations too. The U.S. apparently has 536, China 213 (+55 more in Hong Kong), Germany 103, and India 4th at 90. But what will they all be worth when all our paper wealth disappears?

No one becomes a billionaire by a good salary. $50/hour full time would take 9615 years to save a billion dollars if you spent nothing. Who could ever explain to our grandchildren how billionaires are made, and why they also can't aspire to such feats like their grandparent generations?

But as long as we have more one-time resources to mine and sell and trash, and a new generation of poor people to sort that trash, and repeat for another year of new debt, why worry?

Dennis said...

It might be interesting if people really understood the differences between a republic and a democracy. We are not a DEMOCRACY! Democracies almost always turn into the tyranny of the majority at the expense of the minority and are group oriented vice rights being oriented towards the individual.
One can see the political advantage in creating the idea that we are a democracy for it makes it far easier to pit groups of people agains't each other thereby giving a centralized authority more control over people. Whereas a government oriented towards individual rights allow people to gather together to challenge and control that centralized government. Words and the concepts the engender have real meanings that affect how se see ourselves. Democracies are almost always destructive of individual rights whereas republics are not. Until we understand the differences we are destined to destroy ourselves via the MOB.


for your perusal: It is rather long but makes a point about science and academe. Even when peer review seems to be in place it may not be.